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Adoption conference highlights: The fuller picture

highlighters3.jpgI’ve had (and overheard) some veryinteresting conversations today. Most were about the government’s adoptionreforms, a few were about Working Together, family justice and Munro and onewas about the merits of drinking on your lunch break, courtesy of two verywobbly, but merry, gentlemen on the tube. 

The last was easy to follow (‘lunchtimedrinking is the way forward, hiccup,’ they agreed before falling asleep (and probably waking up at Morden - fans of BBC2′s brilliant series The Tube will know what I mean)) but the others required considerably more attention.

It was hard to keep up with all the conversations at ouradoption conference today, which was full of social workers itching to grill Ofsted and Department for Education reps. But here’s an attempt to give you a flavour of the busy day. (It isn’t exhaustive – I will have missed things – but keep an eye on our news pages for more.)

An overview:


Anyone who was at the conference, or following my twitter updates,will know delegates gave Mary Lucking, the DfE’s head ofadoption, a particularly tough time.

First off was an independentreviewing officer who lambasted the reforms, telling Lucking her department’sfocus on speeding up adoptions was “building in the scandals of the future”.Excellent placements will be lost, she warned, because socialworkers could well be dissuaded from taking time to find homes forharder to place children. “Wouldn’t this just be recorded as unnecessary delay on an adoption score card?” one social worker asked.

No, said Lucking, who tried her best toreassure the skeptics (most of the room judging by their expressions) thatadoption data will be contextualised. The message was: “If you’re finding good placements for harder to placechildren and they’re working, keep doing it.” So that really won’t lead to lowscores? “No. The government does not want score cards to encourage perversebehaviour,” she said. Could’ve fooled me, said delegates.

The government will beconsidering all the information and views they’ve gathered (Lucking said she’d feedback all today’s comments) and will respond in the summer report. But if anyone thinksthere’s time to change ministers’ minds about the ever popular adoption score cards, think again. Thefirst are due in the next two weeks.

Although Lucking promised the reforms werenot just about speed, members of the expert working group revealedthey’d been rushed in their mighty task, meeting only twice and finding theirtight timescales allowed little room for reflection. But their input was critical, ADCS president and working group member Matt Dunkley told us.”If you could see the first version of the adoption score cards you would bemercilessly grateful for the score card you now have,” he said. (Oh, I can believe that.)

He also urged social workers to read the workinggroup’s recommendations in full.

I also liked Dunkley’s analysis of politicians’ adoption concerns – improving speed, a focus on the adopter’sexperience, improving accountability and a focus on ethnicity – which he contrasted with professionals’ concerns – improving outcomes, a focus on the child,supporting improvement and a focus on hard to place groups.

Julie Selwyn
‘s research on adoption breakdown got a positive reception. Selwyn told us the two-year Bristol university study is trying to calculate the national rate ofadoption breakdown, as well as the reasons behind disruptions. Her team has already gathered a huge range of evidence from social workersand adoptive parents, but variable local practice has made it very hard, she said. For example, some authorities have breakdown meetings. But not all.

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I also enjoyed:

  • BAAF’s John Simmonds‘ slide of apolitician’s adoption rhetoric, which we were all asked to read and guess whoit belonged to. (David Cameron? Michael Gove?) Turns out it wastarget-loving-Tony, showing that not much has really changed over the last 12 years. There are still delays, variations and politicians’ still want “a new approach to adoption”.

  • The social worker who compared the workinggroup’s attempts to influence the adoption action plan to the Lib Dems’ attemptsto influence the coalition.
  • Family judge Lord Justice McFarlane‘s analogy of hischildhood Paddington Bear who came with a handy label instructing future ownerswho he was and exactly what he needed. If only children had such labels, McFarlane said.

  • The group discussion about post-adoption support and adoption breakdown, which threw up some interesting questions. Examples: Should councils be legally able to provide adopters with respite care? What is an adoption breakdown? Just when the child has to leave the home or also when family relationships are fractured beyond all repair?

Picture credit: photosteve101

Camilla Pemberton, journalist,

About Camilla Pemberton, journalist,

Camilla Pemberton is Community Care's children's editor

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